Livi maintained their upturn in form with a battling draw at home to promotion-chasing Rangers, though they were left to rue a couple of debatable decisions which denied them a famous win.
After seeing an early goal controversially ruled out, Myles Hippolyte fired the Lions in front with an exquisite free kick only for the visitors to draw level almost instantly through Marius Zaliukas. Scott Pittman was then denied a penalty as Livi searched in vain for a winner that would have seen them move off the foot of the Championship for the first time since November.
Livi boss Mark Burchill made one change to the side that won so crucially at Cowdenbeath on Saturday as Burton O’Brien was brought in to add some experience to the Lions midfield in place of Danny Mullen. Rangers arrived in West Lothian knowing that they would leapfrog Hibernian into second place if they avoided defeat.
The first, and arguably biggest, moment of controversy arrived inside six minutes as the Lions looked to have taken the lead when Hippolyte reacted quickest to Cammy Bell fumbling a high ball to tap home. Referee Greg Aitken seemed happy to award the goal but changed his mind on the advice of his assistant who adjudged that Jordan White had fouled the Rangers keeper. Any contact between White and Bell was minimal at best and certainly played no part in the keeper dropping the ball, which left the Lions feeling suitably aggrieved.
Despite the early setback, Livi continued to press and nice interplay between Keaghan Jacobs and Callum Fordyce ended with the latter whipping a low cross just wide of goal. Nicky Clark forced the first chance of the game for the visitors as he rose to meet a corner from the left but sent his effort high over the bar. After a lull in proceedings as the two sides began to sound each other out, Haris Vuckic unleashed an effort from long range on 24 minutes but it flew straight at Darren Jamieson, who gathered comfortably.
The visitors were enjoying a better spell and nice build-up play ended with Kenny Miller feeding the ball through to Vuckic but his effort was brilliantly blocked by Jason Talbot and Kyle Jacobs completed the clearance. There was a big let-off for Rangers as Vuckic laid out Talbot with a fairly clear elbow right in front of the referee. A free kick was awarded but, incredibly, the Slovenian got away without even a yellow card. Miller then passed up a golden chance to give Rangers the lead when a corner fell to him twelve yards out but he sent his effort soaring high over the bar.
The final half-chance of the half fell Livi’s way as O’Brien played an exquisite ball to Hippolyte but his attempted head-flick just didn’t have enough power to reach the unmarked Pittman and the two sides went in at the break all-square.
After a slow burner of a first half, the second period got off to an explosive start as Livi went ahead within two minutes of the restart. A free kick was awarded on the edge of the box after Lee McCulloch fouled White and Hippolyte stepped to curl a majestic, left-footed strike beyond the despairing dive of Bell to give the Lions a precious lead.
As has so often been the case this season though, the lead was to be a short-lived one as, within two minutes, the visitors were level when a free kick from Vuckic was flicked on by Zaliukas and the ball snuck past Jamieson into the far corner of the net. Rangers were visibly lifted by the quick equaliser and came close to completing the turnaround when Darren McGregor ran on to a loose ball and thundered in a ferocious drive but Jamieson got two strong hands behind the shot to divert it to safety. A few minutes later they came closer still as the ball broke to Vuckic inside the box and his placed effort beat Jamieson but crashed back off the post.
Livi had been rocked by the loss of the goal but eventually regained their composure and came close to regaining the lead when a long throw from Hippolyte was glanced on by Declan Gallagher and Kyle showed good inventiveness to flick a neat overhead effort goalward but he couldn’t get enough pace on the strike to trouble Bell. The Rangers keeper almost gifted Keaghan a chance soon after as he slipped when making a clearance but he just managed to recover in time to clear.
Then came the other big moment of controversy as the Lions seemed to be denied two clear fouls within seconds as first Gallagher was clipped outside the box before the ball found its way to Pittman inside the box and he appeared to be brought down by Zaliukas but referee Aitken chose to ignore both claims. The game became very stop-start after this as both sides looked to their bench. Rangers made an initial double change as Kris Boyd and Ryan Hardie came off for the ineffectual Miller and Nicky Law and then, within minutes, they made their third and final switch as Tom Walsh came on for another anonymous performer in Dean Shiels.
Livi’s first change came along soon after as goalscorer Hippolyte made way for Gary Glen before Keaghan picked up a yellow card for a nothing foul on Zaliukas. Another change followed for the home side as Mullen took the place of Pittman, who had, not for the first time, been the standout performance in a yellow jersey. Fordyce then broke forward down the right and whipped in a terrific cross for White but the big striker could only send his header over the bar. It would prove his last act in the match as he made way for Rory Boulding soon after, the Englishman coming on for his second home debut.
Another controversial moment followed soon after as Vuckic threw himself to the floor with Talbot in close attendance but the referee was right on the spot to take the Slovenian’s name for a blatant act of cheating. That proved to be it as far as the action was concerned as the referee blew for full time soon after to ensure that the spoils were shared and Livi’s unbeaten run extended to five games.
While the Livi players will doubtless look back at the game and see it as a missed opportunity to climb off the foot of the table, this battling point could prove to be a crucial one as the fight for survival continues. The Lions’ next challenge comes in the shape of a Hibernian side who could travel to West Lothian next midweek as Scottish Cup finalists. Our relegation rivals Alloa will have already played their next fixture, at home to Queen of the South, by the time we reconvene at the Energy Assets Arena next Wednesday so the Lions will know exactly what’s required of them going into the match.